Hurricane Ian Pounds Florida

Hurricane Ian tore through Florida with howling winds, torrential rains and raging surf having caused massive power outages across the state. Rescue workers and residents of Florida's Gulf Coast are now searching for missing people and picking up the pieces.

Source: Reuters | Published on September 29, 2022

cat-prone areas

Ian, one of the most powerful storms to hit the United States' mainland in recent years, flooded communities before plowing across the peninsula to the Atlantic coast. Local power companies said more than 2.5 million homes and businesses in Florida remained without power.

Lee and Charlotte counties, home to over 900,000 people, are "basically off the grid," according to Governor Ron DeSantis.

Ian blasted ashore at the barrier island of Cayo Costa on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 kph) (241 kph). It rapidly transformed Florida's southwestern shoreline, dotted with sandy beaches, coastal towns and mobile home parks, into a disaster zone as it swept seawater into waterfront homes.

"The impacts of this storm are historic and the damage that was done was historic," DeSantis said during a news briefing. "We've never seen a flood event like this, or a storm surge of this magnitude."

DeSantis stated that there were two unconfirmed storm-related fatalities. On Thursday morning, the extent of deaths and injuries was unknown because rescue workers were only now responding to calls after being unable to go out due to the treacherous conditions.

According to DeSantis, 28 helicopters were performing water rescues. He also said the bridge to Sanibel Island - a barrier island on the Gulf coast - was severely damaged and impassible. Two area hospitals were evacuated, with patients moved to higher ground.

Residents and rescue workers in hard-hit areas like Venice, located in Sarasota County about 75 miles (120 km) south of Tampa, searched for family and friends in the early morning hours after it passed as trees, debris, and power lines covered roads and standing water washed over the ground.

Kurt Hoffman, sheriff of Sarasota County, told residents in a Twitter post that there were more than 500 calls for help and that they are "triaging" them for the most urgent.

"Patrol deputies resumed operations a few hours ago & are responding to the highest priority calls first," Hoffman wrote. "Sit tight, we know many of you need help."

The search for loved ones was made more difficult because cellphone services were frequently disrupted.

"A lot of down trees, a lot of flooding everywhere. We are trying to get a hold of my daughter," said Terri Byrd as she sat in a vehicle in a Walmart parking lot trying to get cell service after spending the night at an elementary school in Venice.

Ian, now a tropical storm, slowed as it moved across Florida but continued to produce strong winds, heavy rains, and storm surge in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, according to the U.S. According to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm, packing maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph), was about 40 miles (70 km) southeast of Orlando, the Miami-based forecaster said. It was expected to hit the Atlantic Coast on Thursday afternoon, dumping torrential rains and threatening widespread flooding. Up to 30 inches (76 cm) of rain was forecast to fall on parts of central Florida, the hurricane center said.

President Joe Biden spoke with DeSantis on Thursday, saying that his administration was committed to continuing close coordination and that FEMA Director Deanne Criswell would be in Florida on Friday.

Biden also approved a disaster declaration, making federal resources available to the counties impacted by the storm.

The damages caused by Ian will turn out to be catastrophic and FEMA is preparing for potentially thousands of people to be displaced in the long-term, Criswell told CNN.

"I don't think we can quantify it yet," Criswell said when asked about storm damage. "But I can tell you that it is going to be catastrophic."

The said FEMA was preparing for thousands of long-term displaced people in the region, as large population centers were hit as well as families living in mobile homes.

Some utilities began to restore power to customers after the storm passed through southern Florida, but the number of outages increased as the storm moved across Florida.